A Happy Marriage
Only a rowhouse wall stood between Eva Ray's old and new homes.
By Judy West
Sometimes, the answer is closer than you think. For Eva Ray, it was right next door.
Ray had been contemplating a move for a while. Though she liked her Fairmount neighborhood and her 1930's rowhouse, she needed more space.
"Because I am from India, when people come to visit, they stay a long time," Ray says. "My mom will stay for two to three months, my cousins for maybe three weeks. And now my cousins have kids. I just wanted all of us to be more comfortable."
Ray, who is the director of education for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Green program, also longed for a more interesting layout than the typical rowhouse offered.
After several open houses, Ray was no closer to a solution. Then she heard that her elderly neighbors were planning to move. Gradually, the idea of buying the house next door and combining it with her own began to seem viable.
"Before I actually bought it, I went to Rachel with this hand-drawn plan." Ray had meet Rachel Schade a decade earlier, when the architect had worked on a master plan for the horticultural society. "And I said to Rachel, 'Is this even possible? Can I break this wall down?'"
An affirmative answer clinched the deal. First, there were a few practical issues to address with the new house, such as taking out the staircase, enclosing the sun porch to match Ray's, and replicating the trim, which had long ago been stripped. Upstairs, the middle and back bedrooms were combined to make a master suite for Ray, as well as a hallway library.
But the fun started when the two women began playing with Ray's magnificent collection of Indian and other Asian artifacts. Early discussion focused on an antique wooden door frame, from Pakistan's Swat Valley, that Ray had recently found. "I saw it and I thought, 'How often in my life will I be doing construction and have a doorway I can actually put in?'" Ray says.
Set into an opening off the living room, the richly carved doorway leads into one of Ray's favorite new spaces. "I knew I needed a closet, a powder room, and a bar area downstairs, as well as a bigger living room," she says. "So what to do with this space, which was my neighbors' dining room? In India, we always have a room on the first floor where everybody gathers to lie down and chat and drink tea. So I'm explaining this to Rachel, and she says. 'Oh, I get it, it's Eva's Opium Lounge.'"
A daybed draped in embroidered pink and orange silk anchors the tiny room. Above floats an appliqued ceiling cloth. With tongue firmly in cheek, Ray hung pictures of dancing girls. On a trip back to India, she picked up more paintings, of women smoking hookah. "Then I found this pendant, with an image of two men smoking hookah," she says, delighted.
Painted a deep cinnamon, the den feels warm and inviting. "That was Rachel," Ray says. "She suggested we do dark colors in the interior and lighter colors closer to the windows." The double width living room is yellow, and again Ray credits Rachel. For the powder room, Ray told Schade she wanted to be "outrageous, totally over the top." And so it is, with lipstick walls and cobalt blue ceiling.
"Eva was very gutsy about everything," says Schade, and taking this as her cue, she suggested shiny gold walls for the master bedroom. "It's still kind of shocking to me," Ray says, "but I like it a lot."